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Rice Memorial Hospital's strategic plan is beginning to bear fruit

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital's new strategic plan will begin producing concrete results in the next couple of months with the finalizing of both a growth plan and a facilities plan for the city-owned hospital.

"We are working hard on a number of different fronts," said Mike Schramm, chief executive of the hospital.

In a report to the board of directors Wednesday night, he reviewed the timeline and the progress that has been accomplished so far with the strategic plan, which was adopted in December.

The strategic plan outlines the future direction for Rice Hospital and the services the regional hospital provides.

The growth plan will be presented to the hospital board in April. It will identify opportunities for Rice to expand its existing services and add new ones, such as cardiology, that might be feasible to provide locally.

A facility plan also is being developed and will be ready for delivery to the hospital board within the next few months.

Schramm described it as "a laundry list of our facility's needs and issues."

One of the specific areas the plan will address is technology, particularly information technology and how it is being incorporated in hospital care.

"We are getting close to completion," Schramm said.

"That will be able to give the board some perspective on what's on the horizon for us in terms of facility and technology."

A new planning group, consisting of representatives of the hospital and Willmar's two medical clinics, also is scheduled to have its first meeting before the end of March.

The group is charged with identifying and making recommendations for future hospital services that show potential for growth and that are aligned with the future direction of the local medical groups. It's the first time Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Family Practice Medical Center have been this closely involved in strategic discussions about hospital services.

Other elements of the strategic plan -- among them a series of meetings for the board to talk about the future of Rice's long-term care services -- will be unfolding in upcoming months.

The flurry of strategic activity is taking place against a backdrop of financial ups and downs for the hospital.

An unusually low patient census during January led to an operating loss of almost $650,000 for the month. The numbers began to recover in February and the first week of March, but Bill Fenske, chief financial officer at Rice, called it a "very disappointing" start to the fiscal year.

"Hopefully we can make up a third of it in February," he said.

The February financial report will be completed next week, Fenske said. Once the numbers are in, expenses in each department will be analyzed in detail, he said.

It's not unusual for patient volume to swing dramatically up or down from one month to the next, Schramm said. "Volumes can always fluctuate."

The challenge for Rice is to be able to respond effectively so it can maintain its financial performance, he said. "We've had quite a bit of discussion with our executive team on how we want to be able to quickly react."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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